Thanksgiving was last week, but I wanted to spend a moment looking at the expression “thank you.” What was it originally intended to mean? I think, to the pilgrims, it expressed more about gratitude, being grateful for – than anything else. It was originally a time when everybody was grateful for the harvest and grateful for the abundance of food and a desire to share that bounty with the community. What a happy and celebratory time! It was a coming together of loved ones and friends to share their goods, express their joyous feelings and renew fellowship with each other.
I think some parents in their desire to teach their children good manners decided to teach their children to always say “thank you.” I for one was taught to say “thank you” almost before the present was given to me. My parents meant well, but the joy was taken out of the response because the emphasis was on performing a task – “saying thank you.” I was so focused on doing the right thing and being well behaved, that I lost focus on the spontaneity and joy of receiving a gift. If you didn’t say “thank you” quickly enough, you were going to be in hot water. This example may not apply to you, but I think it does for many; it certainly did for many of my clients who have told me about their similar experiences with it.
This emphasis on saying “thank you” can very easily become a family pattern that gets passed down from one generation to the next. For example, I was taught the mandatory “thank you.” So, what did I do? Before I knew better, I taught my kids to say “thank you.” When they hit adolescence and their rebellious stage, they chose to stop saying “thank you” as a way of showing their independence and autonomy. It became a battle until I saw – thanks, to a talk with my own consultant – what was really happening.
“Gratitude” is not something that is taught to you. The exuberance and life force that comes forth when somebody does something good for or towards you is a natural, life sourcing response. I recently saw this demonstrated by a young child receive a new, sparkly dress as a gift for her birthday. She enthusiasticallyopened the package, throwing the paper in all directions, grabbing the dress with enthusiasm and running out of the room. She returned quickly and did a ballerina spin in her new dress. She ran over to her grandma and gave her a big hug. There was no “thank you” said. This little girl was not taught to say “thank you” she just expressed it. I think years ago there was some thinking that said proper manners and good decorum was expressed in a “thank you“. It never hurts to say an extra “thank you.” What would that grandmother have rather gotten – a formalized “thank you” or the enthusiastic and spontaneous elation of her granddaughter?
Now I’m not saying there’s no place for “thank you” in our communications with one another. But, I would like you to ask yourself whether or not your “thank you” is a full expression of the emotional response that you are feeling? Is it covering up something that you feel more deeply but you have gotten out of the habit of fully expressing yourself? I think it’s possible that some people may hide or suppress their exuberant and spontaneous feelings behind the traditional “thanks”.
Personally, I have been working on trying to catch myself for an instant when I say “thanks” or “thank you” and try to see if I have fully expressed myself when using those terms. Most of the time, I have been finding that there is more to be shared or expressed. When I catch myself, I just add the fuller expression. For example, instead of: “thanks a lot” – I’ve added, “I really know that you have my back.” Or “thanks very much” – “I know I can always count on you.” Or, “thanks for the Patriot’s tickets,” – you always seem to choose the perfect gift. I am beginning to understand that for me “thanks”, “thanks a lot,” and “thank you” have been used by me as convenient ways of not really expressing all that there can be shared with others – the people who mean the most to me. If our intent is to live fully alive, then, that begins with expressing our full gratitude.
If you have any questions or topics that you would like me to discuss, please email me and I will either answer them personally or in the column. Let’s continue the conversation below.